Procedurally, changing an employee’s name should never be as simple as permitting the employee merely to submit a company-generated personnel form. Inevitably, employees remember to inform their employer of the name change but forget to follow through with the federal government. Why is this a problem? Because discrepancies between employees’ names on employer documents (e.g., W-2s) and the names on file with the government can cause problems – for both the employee and employer. Requesting corrected W-2s from the payroll company can be costly and is certainly a hassle.
When an employee wishes to change their name, inform them you require proof in the form of an updated Social Security card that reflects the name change. Once the employee has changed his or her name with Social Security, the other agencies like the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will also note the change. Employees can apply for the new card by submitting a Form SS-5 at their local Social Security office or mailing the completed form to any Social Security office. The employee will be required to submit not only the Form SS-5, but also an original or certified copy of the marriage certificate or divorce decree as well as their passport to prove identity and citizenship. (Incidentally, there are other options than just the passport.) All documents submitted are returned to the applicant. If a name change is not the result of a marriage or divorce, the employee will be required to produce a court decree, which, in California, may be obtained only after filing a petition with the court clerk and obtaining a judge’s signature. Employees can find helpful information about this process at the following site:
While you are not required to update the employee’s Form I-9 simply because an employee has changed his or her name, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recommends that you keep the form current nonetheless. If you update the employee’s I-9, as the USCIS advises, you will want to complete Section 3 at the bottom of the form’s first page. Note that the USCIS does not require employees to provide proof of the name change, nor are you required to record any document on the form solely for the purpose of a name change.
With regard to verifying Social Security cards, it’s also worth noting that the IRS’s Publication 15 ("Circular E, Employer’s Tax Guide") actually suggests the employer require all new hires to produce a copy of their Social Security card so the employer may verify the correct name and Social Security number. Of course, this should only happen after the employee has completed the I-9, so there is no inference the employer is dictating to the employee which documents must be used to verify employment eligibility. And while California law does not prohibit employers from reviewing Social Security cards altogether, employers should always be wary of restrictions on how they record and use Social Security numbers under Civil Code § 1798.85.
Article by Mark Nelson, J.D., Senior Helpline Consultant, Employers Group